PIZZA HUT PLANS U.S. LAUNCH FOR SICILIAN PIE

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Amid stiff competition in the slow-growing pizza business, leader Pizza Hut is planning to bring to the U.S. a Sicilian-style pizza launched late last year in international markets.

The chain is stepping up its focus on various crust types, and is working to position its red-roofed restaurants as old-fashioned neighborhood pizzerias. It also expects to do more marketing aimed at kids. Pizza Hut declined comment.

The Sicilian pizza was launched in the U.K. in December, via an ad campaign from Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, London. Unexpected publicity came last month when its star -- a high-profile soccer team captain, Ruud Gullitt -- was fired from his job over a salary dispute.

CELEBRITY SAVE

In a TV spot, he meets with a sports agent who starts boasting about a "hot Sicilian" Mr. Gullitt should meet. Thinking the agent is referring to a potential new soccer star, he's happily surprised to find the object of desire is the pizza.

After the player's forced departure from the team, the agency turned the problem into a selling point by re-editing some of the original outtakes showing Mr. Gullit eating the pizza, then putting an abbreviated version of his resume at the bottom of the screen.

Celebrities have been a mainstay of Pizza Hut's advertising, with Mikhail Gorbachev recently touting the new Edge pizza. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali stars in a spot that hasn't yet been broadcast.

Contributing: Juliana Koranteng.

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